We were worried.
It was late evening. The sun was about to set. The sky hung over the Wednesday night crowd like a mat of red hot flames. It was as if the heavens were against us too.
We wanted to do our jobs. They wanted us gone.
It was them against us. Our group was small. Five, maybe ten of us at the most. Though we yelled and cursed at them, we were scared. They had signs. They had their Bibles, their hymns, and their ankle-length skirts. They had the support of the entire town. We had their husbands.
We knew there would be trouble when the new mayor called for a restoration of Macon Street. Always trying to clean us up like we are the grape juice stain soaking into the white fabric of their “moral” town. They were decent people. We could smell it on them.
Macon Street was the main street that ran through the small town of Smithville. The street was dignified by day. When we were supposed to be sleeping, we watched them from the windows of our apartments. Stately well-dressed people moved up and down the bricked street spending their money and shouting their amens and bless yous. Small girls pushed little strollers with brown baby dolls, which they parked in a straight line when they played spirited games of hopscotch. They used bright-colored chalk to draw their boxes and numbers on the sidewalk. The older girls flirted with boys who leaned against freshly waxed cars. Senior citizens sat on hunter-green benches looking and talking. Younger boys threw balls at each other or played with well-groomed dogs in the Smithville Park next to Gail’s Sew and Sew, a little sewing shop run by Gail Robertson. Gail was a lady of reputable repute and one who never ceased to speak her mind. She stood up for us at the town hall meetings. On cold nights Gail left hot coffee for us before she closed up.
“Sluts!” they shouted from across the street.
The word stung our ears like a thousand wasps rising out of nowhere all at once and surrounding their prey. We took a few steps away from the curb. None of us responded.
The women had just come from their prayer meeting. They stood on the sidewalk in front of their beautiful church with their signs. The church was white with stained-glass windows.
“Get out of our town!” one of them said. She was dark-skinned with dark curly hair. She stood in front of the other church ladies. She was the mother of the sad boy who was around five years old. We saw the boy earlier while the decent ladies were in church.
“Why are you sad?” we asked when he walked past us with his head hung down.
“Lost my dog,” he mumbled.
Hope he didn’t fall into the drainage ditch in the park. We all thought it but none of us said it. Many of Smithville’s beloved pets met their untimely deaths in that ditch. It seemed to always have water in it. We took turns wiping his tears and kissing his forehead. His mother would have killed us had she seen us. She was in the church at the time, raising her voice with the other church ladies singing their off-key version of “Blessed Assurance.”
It’s our town too, we all wanted to shout as we stared at the church ladies who stood across the street from us clothed in their holier-than-thou attitudes. But we didn’t. Probably because we believed in our own filthiness. We allowed men to “defile our bodies” according to them. Maybe we believed them. Maybe their words were true. Maybe it was the men who defiled us all.
Lynn stepped forward. We could feel the anger rise up inside her. Her body trembled. She moved toward the curb. She took quick steps. Her six-inch, fire-engine-red heels clicked on the pavement. We pulled her back.
“They will whip your ass,” we said in a frantic audible whisper.
“Maybe a little ass whoopin’ is what’s needed,” she said pulling a three-inch blade from her garter. We all had three-inch blades for protection against johns who stepped out of line. We never figured on using them on the church ladies.
“We called the police!” the woman we knew as the sad boy’s mother said. She pointed a thin finger in our direction. “They’re gonna take you to jail where you belong.”
Smithville’s News Team made it to the scene just as we heard the police sirens. We started toward the church ladies with our blades in hand. The sky threatened darkness. The redness overtaken by deep, dark, intense blue. The air was thick with anticipation. We moved toward the curb. We took our time.
The church ladies stared at us in disbelief. Their homemade signs bore insults in big block letters written in thick black Sharpie ink. The blue lights flashed and moved closer. We were in the middle of the street, standing on the white line when we heard a sound slice through the madness like a sharp knife through a freshly baked lemon pound cake. It was a dog. He was brown with short hair. He was the sad boy’s dog.
The dog stopped in front of the dark-skinned lady leading the insults – the mother of the sad boy. She kicked the dog hard in the stomach. He whimpered and fell onto his side. He lay at our feet. We wanted to slice the mean woman into four equal sections and drop her into the drainage ditch at the back of the park but we were all frantically looking around for the boy.
“Not here!” we all yelled at once as if directed by a choir director. “The drainage ditch!” we yelled in unison and took up our six-inch heels, clenched our fists and ran full force into the night air. The church ladies followed. They thought we were running from them. They shouted at us and threatened to beat us with their signs. We ignored them and continued our mad dash to the drainage ditch.
When we made it to the drainage ditch, the sky was turning from deep blue to black. We heard the soft cries of the sad boy coming from the ditch. Someone called for a light. We all had one and shined them on the boy who was up to his waist in water. He was about five feet down.
“Oh, God! My baby!” The scream came from the boy’s mother who stood behind us. She stood frozen. Her sign lay on the ground at her feet. The other church ladies were fast approaching. Their fastidious steps halted and their faces were angry as they glared at us.
“He’s in there!” the boy’s mother said.
We had to get him out but we had no idea as to how to go about it. We needed something long enough to reach him and strong enough to support his weight. We didn’t have a rope. We looked to the church ladies standing behind us wearing their button-to-the-chin blouses and wearing their long flowing skirts for ideas. They stared back at us with worried tear-stained faces. The mother of the sad boy continued to sob.
Darkness quickly surrounded us as the boy cried out.
Something had to be done.
We took out our knives and we walked toward the church ladies. Their signs were on the ground at their feet. They stared at us with wide eyes. They were no threat to us at this point. We could’ve overtaken them right there in the dark. They took a collective breath as we took hold of them.
“NO!” they screamed on different pitches.
With the material of their long flowing skirts in hand, we slid our knives through the fabric, ripping it from their bodies. Bare legs protruded from jagged upper thigh-length skirts. We started working together as one unit. We twisted and tied the strips of material into a long sturdy rope. We dropped one end of the rope to the sad boy. He took hold of it and together we pulled. We felt the weight of him on the other end of the rope. We pulled harder.
The boy was out of the ditch when we heard the dog barking again. He reached us seconds before the blue lights reached us. We showered the boy with kisses and gentle hugs as the crowd that gathered watched.
Katrina Byrd, a native of Jackson, MS, and Millsaps College graduate, is a writer and playwright who is currently working toward her MFA in creative writing at the Mississippi University for Women. Several of her short stories have appeared in literary magazines and several of her short plays have been performed locally. Katrina loves feather boas!
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